Activist who exposed breast at Virginia protest freed after being held without bail

A New York woman who mimicked Virginia’s state seal by exposing her breast outside the Capitol during a protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment was freed Thursday morning after initially being held without bail.

Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure Monday. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported a magistrate set bail for Sutherland at $700 but the Richmond General District Court’s chief judge, Lawrence B. Cann III, on Tuesday ordered her held until her March 21 court date. Advocates said holding someone without bond for a nonviolent misdemeanor is unusual.

Sutherland’s lawyer, David Baugh, said Cann agreed to release her “on a $1,500 personal recognizance bond,” The Washington Post reported.

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Sutherland “did not have to put up that amount of money, but would have to pay if she did not show up for her court date in late March,” the Post reported.

Baugh told The Washington Post that the judge was not aware of “the backstory” of the indecent exposure charge and did not know she was protesting. Baugh said the judge apologized in a court hearing.

“She’s obviously not a flasher,” Baugh told The Washington Post of Sutherland. “It was a protest about the state seal and the ERA and none of that was reported on the warrant.”

The state seal on Virginia’s flag shows the Roman goddess Virtus “representing the genius of the Commonwealth,” according to the state’s website. The goddess is seen with their foot on a fallen tyrant with their breast exposed.

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“I’m not sex; I’m actually dressed up as the woman who’s on, like, literally the flag,” Sutherland was heard saying in a video while she was being arrested, NBC Washington reported. “This is what they do to women who are standing up for themselves.”

The arrest caught the attention of the ACLU Virginia which said in a tweet: “Showing a breast as part of a satirical act of protest is not obscene. The real obscenity at the Capitol is lawmakers standing in the way of constitutional equality against the will of the people.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.